How did you come to learn the languages you use at work?
Since childhood, I have always been very curious about how people communicate. I was amazed by how people could use a different language to express the same idea. I started to learn English when I was a child because I wanted to travel around the world someday. After obtaining a degree in economics, I pursued a graduate degree in interpretation. I have been using both Chinese and English in professional settings ever since.
What attracted you to become a United Nations interpreter?
For an interpreter, working at the United Nations is like reaching the pinnacle of your professional career. Furthermore, I have the opportunity to witness history being made, and that makes it very rewarding.
How do you find working for the United Nations different from any previous roles you may have had?
I am fortunate to have joined the United Nations right after my graduation. First, a simple mistake when interpreting at the United Nations could have serious consequences. Second, the role is challenging and requires a lot of continuous learning. We must keep abreast of all current events and global affairs. Third, the position demands both physical stamina and mental acuity. You need to be ready wherever there is an event that requires the immediate attention of the Security Council or the United Nations at large.
What do you consider to be the key traits of a good interpreter?
I would say the most important traits are integrity, reliability, professionalism and teamwork.
What part of your job do you consider the most interesting? Why?
It is always interesting to watch delegates from different countries with different economic or political systems and diverse cultures, interacting to overcome their differences and find solutions.
What challenges do you face in your daily work and how do you handle them?
Interpreting at the United Nations has become more and more challenging as United Nations conferences cover more topics these days. Interpreting for Security Council meetings is particularly challenging, especially when it comes to discussions on delicate issues. One simple word could alter the entire meaning of what the delegate is trying to say. We must stay alert and sharp at all times.
How often do you come across words or phrases you are unfamiliar with? How do you deal with them?
Unfamiliar words or phrases may be an issue, but the most challenging moments would be when phrases or idioms are culture-specific or have complex backgrounds and history. Preparation is therefore extremely important for interpreters. To prepare for a meeting, we need to do research, understand the context and become familiar with the keywords that might be used. This helps interpreters provide a more precise interpretation that conveys the message of the speech.
What are some of the most difficult assignments you have worked on?
Interpreting at the United Nations can be difficult in different ways. There are tragic events discussed at United Nations meetings, which often place an emotional demand on the interpreters.
How does your work fit into the larger framework of the United Nations?
The United Nations provides a forum for nations to work together to resolve issues. This is impossible without effective dialogue and communication. United Nations interpreters play an essential role in this process.
How does being multilingual affect your daily life in New York City?
New York City is very culturally diverse. Many people are bilingual or multilingual; therefore, I feel right at home.
Do you have any advice for budding interpreters? Any tips on how to prepare for the competitive examinations for interpreters?
United Nations competitive examinations for interpreters are challenging, for good reason. If you are interested in becoming a United Nations interpreter, start now. You should keep practising consistently to develop your expertise and skills, read extensively on any topic that may relate to the United Nations, keep an open mind and make sure you don’t lose your curiosity.